With a permanent official population of 13,000,000 living in a sprawling expanse of 6,486 square miles, Beijing takes its place in the 21st century as one of the largest, most bustling cities in the world.
As home to such famous historical attractions as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, China's major tourist hub currently attracts more than 10 million foreign visitors per year.
Find out more about this hot travel destination that is about to become hotter still with its growing acceptance of Western culture and international status as an Olympic host city ...
The Great Wall - Once a symbol for China's desire to keep foreigners out, today the engineering and architectural wonder has become, ironically, a main symbol of Chinese tourism. Badaling is the first section of the Wall opened to tourists and is only part of the more than 4,000 miles of mountains & valleys it traverses throughout China. It's a thrilling spectacle even for seasoned travelers who want to say they have walked the Great Wall - at least once.
The Forbidden City - Also known as the Palace Museum, it was the official home of the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Today, it is a major Beijing tourist attraction where visitors can walk the great halls and pavilions, marvel at the ornate courtyards and view one of the largest collections of Chinese art & jewels anywhere.
Watch for at least sections of the Palace Museum to be forbidden - once again - as restoration work continues for its 600th anniversary celebrated in 2020.
Tiananmen Square - Near the Forbidden City, the 440,000 square meter city square is the largest in the world, and for its size and scope alone is a must see on any visit to Beijing.
Be sure to visit the Tiananmen Tower, the massive granite Monument to the People's Heroes, and plan on seeing the national flag raising ceremony performed daily (but get up early!) at sunrise.
Beijing's main city square is where people have naturally gathered for centuries, and here is where Mao Zedong declared the People's Republic of China in 1949. 40 years later, a famous pro-democracy demonstration inside the square resulted in the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Although the protest went down in defeat, the government has since clearly undergone a social and economic revolution that is ongoing.
Flying time from New York to Beijing is 20-24 hours (including a stopover on the West Coast); or from Chicago, approximately 17-20 hours. On a direct flight from California, count on 13 hours air time on a direct flight.
Beijing Capital Airport is 16 miles from the city center, and of late has been a chaotic scene as a growing tourist base outpaces the facility's capacity. A larger terminal was completed in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics period, however, which promises to ease some of the crush during peak periods.
As with traveling anywhere else, much cheaper airfares to Beijing can be found by surfing the Net, booking tickets far in advance, staying over Saturday night, or flying mid-week or at less trafficked times.
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